General Jacob E. Smart, about 1951



General Jacob E. Smart, Ploesti Raid Strategist, Dies at 97

New York Times, November 16, 2006

By Douglas Martin

General Jacob E. Smart, a four-star general who conceived the strategy for the daring World War II bombing raid on the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, and went on to help shape the postwar Air Force, died Sunday, November 12, 2006, in Ridgeland, S.C., in the house in which he was born. He was 97.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his son, William, said.

General Smart, then a colonel, came up with the idea of having planes fly exceedingly low to bomb the tightly defended refineries, which were believed to be producing one-third of the fuel oil for the Nazi war machine.

In the face of protests by the five group commanders who would be leading the raid, his plan of flying at treetop level was accepted by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander. Among the plan’s advantages, Colonel Smart argued, was greater accuracy.

The mission, on Sunday, Aug. 1, 1943, was deemed a success, even though 54 of the 177 bombers that took part were lost, and 53 more were heavily damaged. The refineries’ output was greatly curtailed, and five Medals of Honor were awarded, the most for any single American military action.

Colonel Smart was not allowed to fly on the Ploesti mission because his superiors thought his knowledge of Allied war plans and secrets was too great to risk his capture. But they later allowed him to fly 29 missions, the last of which resulted in his being shot down and put in a prisoner-of-war camp.

Through pictures in magazines showing Colonel Smart with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the Germans realized that he probably knew things worth knowing, and he was repeatedly interrogated. Although Colonel Smart, unbeknown to the Germans, knew details of the Normandy invasion, he divulged nothing.

After the war, Colonel Smart became part of the new Air Force, which had been part of the Army. He rose rapidly in rank, becoming commander of the Fifth Air Force and of United States Forces in Japan. President John F. Kennedy, in a speech at the Air Force Academy on June 5, 1963, praised General Smart by name. The general was then commander in chief of the Pacific Air Forces.

In 1964, he became deputy commander in chief of the United States European Command, a post that involved personal dealings with President Charles de Gaulle of France, who sometimes deigned to speak in English to General Smart and who was then preparing to withdraw his forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Jacob Edward Smart was born on May 31, 1909, in Ridgeland, and spent a year at the Marion Military Institute before being appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point. After graduation, he completed pilot training and became a flight instructor, eventually rising to chief of flying training at the Air Corps Headquarters in Washington.

In July 1942, he was selected to serve on the Air Corps Advisory Council in Washington, which helped Gen. Henry H. Arnold, the corps commander, develop strategy. General Arnold sent him to London to help plan for the Ploesti raid.

In January 1943, Colonel Smart’s notion of a low-level attack was discussed at the meeting in Casablanca, Morocco, between Roosevelt and Churchill, and again that May when the two met in Washington.

It was General Arnold who finally agreed to let him fly. On May 10, 1944, Colonel Smart was blown out of the bomber he was piloting over Wiener Neustadt, Austria, and became a prisoner of war. Of the seven-man crew, only he and his bombardier survived. Colonel Smart was covered with shrapnel wounds.

When the Germans recognized him as being connected to higher-ups, their questions ranged far beyond details of his mission, and he was put in an excellent hospital and taken to country estates to socialize with the German elite, but he refused to talk meaningfully, his son said. He was once mysteriously approached by men who claimed to want to assassinate Hitler and begged him to help find American contacts.

He was again wounded in the Korean War. His medals included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, awarded four times.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1966, General Smart held several high positions at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he worked on the Hubbell Space Telescope project, among other things.

General Smart’s marriage to Elizabeth Gohmert Melton of Scotts Valley, Calif., ended in divorce in 1946. His daughters Rosemary and Joan died before him.

In addition to his son, William Edward Smart, of Whitehall, Mont., General Smart is survived by his companion, Setsuko Saito; his daughter, Jacklyn S. Freeman of Ben Lomond, Calif.; 10 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

When he retired for good to his hometown in the mid-1970s, he was greeted by three bands, and Main Street was renamed in his honor. He wrote a book about what local people did during World War II and helped set up a local historical museum.



 

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